Avera Medical Minute: Hospitals ask for help with COVID holiday surge

Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 10:24 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - For healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been a long 19 months.

“So we’re going on two years of this, and it feels like we’re definitely not making progress most days, and it’s weighing down on people in the clinic, in the hospital, we’re seeing a lot of illness, a lot of death,” said Dr. Ben Meyerink, an Avera Family Medicine Physician.

“I’ve never had so many patients,” added Avera Pulmonologist Dr. Dayna Grozkreutz. “And I’ve never seen so many people die.”

Hospital staff has been working through the lulls and surges of this pandemic, coming off a spike last November, to a slower period this summer.

But cases are once again climbing.

“Now in December, we continue to push up and now are around 150 patients in the hospital at any given time a slow, steady increase,” said Dr. David Basel, VP of Clinical Quality for the Avera Medical Group.

The increase in COVID caseload is putting even more strain on resources, and healthcare workers.

“We’re kind of in our third surge right now, and we’re just kind of what we can do to stay positive, stay motivated, stay focused on caring for patients,” said Brittni Cowan, Avera Nurse, Supervisor of Clinical Nursing Education.

As we head into winter, health officials say things are different now than they were in the winter of 2020.

The Omicron variant is quickly spreading.

“With Omicron coming, we’re concerned with the reports that natural immunity does not respond as well to Omicron and that’s why the vaccination and booster efforts are so important,” said Dr. Basel.

Basal says most of the COVID patients in the hospital right now are unvaccinated. Many are younger than before, too.

“Last year, it was unusual for us to admit somebody younger than 50s,” said Dr. Basel. “This year it’s very common for us to admit someone in their 20s or 30s and we’ve even lost children to this illness this year. So it’s a totally different population.”

With peak flu season right around the corner, hospitals are bracing for potentially even more of an influx in patients.

They say the two viruses affect people differently.

“These COVID patients, they stay longer than any other kind of patients like influenza, they take a lot more intense usage of resources,” said Dr. Basel.

Dr. Grozkreutz says in a typical influenza season, she might lose one or two patients to the virus.

“Last winter I was losing one or two patients a day to COVID,” she said.

Health officials maintain that vaccination is a cornerstone to slowing the spread of viruses.

“We want normal too, and we want to get rid of the masks, we want to do things with friends and family too and feel the normalcy,” said Cowan.

This holiday season it’s important to stay up to date with booster shots, monitor cold and COVID symptoms, and get tested if you feel sick.

Doing so can help slow the spread of illness and keep hospital capacity at manageable levels.

“This is about protecting yourself, about protecting your loved ones, about protecting your community,” said Dr. Basel. “It’s going to take an effort from all of us and we will get there but please help us through this holiday season.”

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